My last few reads have been on iBooks and I have to say there's real pleasure in reading an old out-of-print paperback. This book (Anne Maybury's The Terracotta Palace) has a musty attic smell and I like the cover art. Here's my evaluation based on a set of questions I have pulled together and will apply to all romantic-suspense novels I review on LiAM:
Does the story include the necessary romantic-suspense elements?
- an old house with a long history and secret passageways? YES! The Terracotta Palace is an ancient mansion in Rome where the Malimbrosas live in beautiful suites with wonderful servants, manicured grounds, and dark cellars originally built to house prisoners.
- a secretive husband whose trust is called into question? YES! Philip is Juliet's untrustworthy love interest. His potential deception is carried through to the very end quite effectively.
- an alternative male who provides support and friendship? YES! Martin, who is frequently referred to as Juliet's "gay companion," is her confidant.
- a sophisticated female who is in competition for the husband and has superior beauty and status? YES! Irena is described as being the most elegant woman in the room and it appears that she and Philip are involved.
- a narrator who is ordinary and insignificant? YES! Juliet is strong, independent, and not easily swayed but she is "ordinary" in that she's not wealthy and "insignificant" because she's not immediately recognized as one of the clan.
- a murder or an attempted murder? YES! Vanessa is missing and possibly dead; Pepi, the little boy, is being tortured by ghosts and Juliet is a target.
Initially, YES, when I closed the book, The Terracotta Palace was an acceptable read. The characters were tolerable and sufficiently developed for light fiction, and the story wrapped up with the (obligatory) romance. BUT, when I started to think about my blog post, I realized that the story doesn't quite measure up and here's why:
The mystery is solved, but doesn't make sense.
Vanessa is alive and her family knows all about it. Allegra actually engineers her grand-daughter's "disappearance" as part of an excommunication from the family for having forged checks.
For having forged checks? Really? Money flows easily and generously in the Malimbrosa household. There's no reason (such as drugs or gambling) to explain why Vanessa would need more money than what she has. The conclusion that she can't be trusted and must be banished before she embarrasses the family just doesn't make sense to me.
Juliet is a Malimbrosa and that gives us a solid explanation (and an acceptable gothic motive) for why someone is trying to kill her. Vanessa wants her cousins Juliet and Pepi out of the way so she can find her way back into Allegra's heart.
There's no resolution.
Vanessa is going to jail. Pepi is still weak and emotional. Juliet is going home. Even if Juliet and Philip marry, it's not likely they will both change their names to Malimbrosa. Irena isn't going to jeopardize her relationship with the sterile Leo by having a secret child outside of her marriage. Romola is too old to bear children and has no prospects. No one inherits? All of this drama for nothing?
And no one rescues the child.
I can't believe Anne Maybury just dropped this part of the story. Will Juliet go back to London and write the kid long letters as some means of support (as she plans) or will she actually do something to improve Pepi's life? It would have been a much more satisfying ending to the story (and a logical one) if Juliet and Philip had taken a ride out to the country with the intention of saving the child (and the heir).
Does the novel include artistic color?
No, not really. This is something I have come to expect from Anne Maybury novels. Juliet walks up and down the street looking for Vanessa and drinking coffee. She explores vacant buildings and burned out houses. Geraniums are always described as looking tired. Juliet is out of sorts. People stub out their cigarettes but never light them or smoke them. Two stars for the book in general. Three stars for the genre.